It really is all in the name – fancy having a tree that produces soap-filled berries!
Mother Nature really showed off with these little gems, which happen to be cousins with the commonly known lychee. The dried shells of this fruit contain saponins, a natural detergent that reduces the surface tension of water to lift dirt and grease. Soapberries have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. They are perfectly suited for so many cleaning and body care applications. I’m obsessed with their awesomeness.
Soapberries are so gentle on the skin, hypoallergenic and non-toxic. They are grey-water safe, don’t have a strong scent and are completely biodegradable – simply throw them in your garden compost when you’re done.
Unfortunately the soapberry tree or ‘Sapindus Mukorossi’ doesn’t grow here in Australia. But we can get our hands on the dried shells of these incredible berries and use them to clean, wash and shampoo.
How Do They Work, Exactly?
Soapberries contain saponins which is a substance produced by plants in an anti-microbial effort to protect its seeds – it tastes bad to insects. So, when soapberries are placed in water (warm is ideal but not essential), the saponins are released and act to lift dirt, grease and grime.
If you’re making the transition directly from mainstream detergents, you’ll notice that the gentle bubbles created only foam for a short while, but the cleaning efficiency remains high. Can I remind you that bubbles aren’t necessary to achieve ‘clean’? I can’t stress this enough. We’ve been conditioned to expect big bubbles in the sink, a thick lather on hair etc., but I can assure you that this is absolutely not necessary. The synthetic chemicals used to achieve bubbles, like SLS/SLES, are not ingredients you want having prolonged contact with your skin. Not only are there contamination concerns and the potential for harmful by-products to be created when they combine with other ingredients, but they have also been found to be toxic to aquatics (and where do these products go – straight down the drain).
Simple Uses For Soapberries
〉Check my Soapberry Master Stock recipe here. So easy!
〉Soapberry stock is so adaptable, not only for cleaning, but perfect for body and skin-care applications. I use the Soapberry Master Stock for clothes washing, dishwashing, cleaning surfaces and even shampooing hair.
〉5 soapberries in a cotton bag, thrown in with your next load of laundry will effectively clean your clothes. Warm water is ideal, but not necessary – just note that the soapberries won’t last as long with warm water as they will with cool. You should be able to get about five washes out of the same lot of berries. Just let them dry between washes to keep them fresh and ready to reuse. If you find your clothes aren’t washing as well as you’re used to, you might want to boost the cleaning power in your next load with a tablespoon of sodium percarbonate. Or try my Stain Solution for the particularly grubby items.
〉If you prefer an actual ‘washing detergent’ then check out my recipe for Liquid Laundry Detergent here.
〉I like to throw 3-4 soapberries in a jar with 1 cup of warm water, shake until foamy, and then empty into a sink for dishwashing. Dry the soapberries out between uses (I just use the lid of the jar and leave it under the sink) and reuse 4-5 times.
Where Can You Find Them?
A quick search online should provide you with a few options, however, I highly recommend That Red House. Talia, Adelaide-based founder of TRH, is my favourite supplier of organic soapberries. She is doing amazing things in this green DIY space; her intentions are pure and genuine – she and her team sincerely care about the health of the planet as well as helping people consider their waste and use of toxic products.